Press, Feds Labeled Michigan State University Arson “Terrorism” in 2000

by Will Potter on March 11, 2008

in Government Priorities,Terrorism Court Cases

Mason Earth Liberation Front Arson SearchI’ve noticed that there’s a tendency, when people speak critically about the use of “terrorism” legislation and rhetoric to chill dissent, to act as if this is something that rose from the ashes of 9/11. As if the political opportunism we’re seeing now can only be explained as some kind of outgrowth of that tragedy. That’s true, in some ways, in that 9/11 has been exploited by politicians and corporations to push their political agenda. But that political opportunism was taking place long before 2001.

Today’s news about the arrests for a 1999 arson at the University of Michigan is a good example of that. The FBI and law enforcement held a press conference today trumpeting that “domestic terrorists” have been indicted. But that rhetoric, that PR tactic, was in use back in 2000, right after the arson.

CBS News ran a two-part series in early 2000 called “Green Terror.” The opening of the CBS piece called the MSU arson “sabotage,” then the tone shifts to labeling it “terrorism”:

A terrorist group claimed it set the fire specifically to stop the work of those who study genetically modified food.

“I lost basically my entire professional life,” says Ives. “I lost every paper I ever wrote that analyzed the benefits and risks of this technology.”

CBS went on to report:

Now, federal investigators say the violent, radical green movement has a new mission. “It seems to me as if anybody who’s engaged in genetic research is potentially a target” says Stephen Peifer. Peifer, a federal prosecutor in Oregon, is presenting evidence against the ELF to a federal grand jury. He believes that “Sooner or later there will be human injury, or perhaps loss of life if this continues.”

This was 8 years ago. And in that time, the Earth Liberation Front, even the most extreme and potentially dangerous acts of sabotage committed by that group, has not lived up to that expectation. Not one person has been harmed. I think that’s important to remember as we see the words “terrorism” and “violence” batted around in soundbites.

As an aside, this is the same Stephen Peifer who was the Assistant US Attorney in the “Operation Backfire case,” a string of ELF actions in the Northwest. During a “terrorism enhancement hearing” for those cases, you might remember, Peifer told the court, “This is not a political prosecution.” Really? It’s been 8 years. And in that time, terrorists have flown planes into buildings. Murdered innocent people. Sent anthrax in the mail. Created “dirty bomb” plots. Distributed video communiques vowing more attacks on innocent people. And still, the government has escalated sabotage in the name of the environment to the level of “number one domestic terrorism threat.”

Anyone else still believe this isn’t political?

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